It’s tough to say if any Star Wars novel is really essential these days. With the full attention of the franchise moved back to movies, and the books firmly placed back in a supporting role, does one really need to read a book like James Luceno’s Catalyst? The answer here is a firm maybe: It entirely depends on your focus within the franchise.
Good news for folks who had trouble with Chuck Wendig’s first Aftermath novel – the sequel, Life Debt is far more accessible. No, Wendig doesn’t change things up too much, but plotwise, the book is slightly more traditional. (Those who can’t move beyond his writing style, well… Good luck.)
It also helps that we’re well past The Force Awakens. The first Aftermath found itself targeted for a lot of things, but I think the most notable (and least discussed) was the burden of expectation. As the first important canon novel to tread into the newly-cleared territory after Return of the Jedi, it was bound to disappoint readers who thought they’d be getting Heir to the Empire 2.0 – or at least Truce at Bakura 2.0. The reality turned out to be something more off the beaten track and with Life Debt, we have a far better idea of what we’re getting.
With the ground laid in the first book, Life Debt gets off the ground quickly. Wendig is free to use (sparingly) characters like Han and Leia in the A-plot, which gives readers an anchor. But the majority of the action is still with the newer characters.
It’s rather refreshing to finally be getting some of the gaps filled in.
Claudia Gray’s Star Wars: Bloodline, out today, isn’t the first to give us a look at the galaxy beyond Return of the Jedi in the new canon. (It isn’t even Gray’s first, technically.) But it the closest to The Force Awakens so far, set less than a decade before the film. It’s also the first to feature a major character in anything beyond a glorified cameo. This is, by far, the canon novel with the most mass appeal to Expanded Universe fans new and old.
And yes, it’s good. I admit, I am worried that those of us who got and talked (vaguely) about the book early may be overselling the novel. After all, that’s what happened to me with Gray’s previous Star Wars book, Lost Stars. There was no early copy for me there, and it was the last of the Journey to The Force Awakens books I read. And it was fine! But I suspect the unrelenting hype damaged it a bit for me. (I may also be extremely a tiny bit burnt out on YA-style romance.)
Bloodline, on the other hand, was a blistering fast read for me. The minute I got it, I couldn’t put it down. As anyone who was following me on Twitter may have noticed, I read it in three hours. I honestly can’t recall the last time I read a Star Wars novel at that speed. It might have been back in the ’90s?
Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath is the first canon Star Wars novel to take place after Return of the Jedi since the old EU was declared Legends more than a year ago. I’ve only formally reviewed the lackluster Heir to the Jedi since then, but it’s no secret that the canon novels so far haven’t been to my tastes. My focus has never really been on books set during the film eras, and before Aftermath all the offerings were just that.
But I am pleased (and, yes, a little surprised) to report that I found Aftermath to be rather good. You’ll hear a lot about Wendig’s unusual style of prose – and I had some hesitation there as well – but I found that once I got into the rhythm of the book it was no trouble at all. In fact, this is the first canon novel I didn’t have to force myself through at all – it read speedily and offers a satisfying story with interesting characters.
But they are, for the most part, new characters. Wedge Antilles plays an important part, but you can’t call him a lead by any means. Rebel pilot Norra Wexley, her son Temmin, former Imperial loyalty officer Sinjir Rath Velus, bounty hunter Jax Emari and Imperial Admiral Rae Sloane (who originated in A New Dawn) carry most of the plot’s weight.
Kevin Hearne’s Heir to the Jedi brings a lot of firsts, as far as Star Wars novels go. It’s the first of the new canon novels to feature one of the big three characters; the first Star Wars first-person novel* to feature an actual movie character, and the first canon novel to be set after A New Hope. It’s also the first of the new novels I actually had any interest in reading.
Now, I don’t expect a Star Wars novel to rock the very galaxy, particularly when set in a movie-limited era like this one is. I wasn’t expecting a game-changing book by any means. And generally, I don’t mind a quieter story, as long as it’s an engaging one that keeps me wanting to read.
Unfortunately, Heir to the Jedi delivers an unremarkable tale that fails to make much of an impression. From the first-person conceit to the title that seems deliberately reminiscent of Heir to the Empire, it seemed to me like the book was writing several checks that it completely failed to cash.